Why Am I So Bad At Pinball? And How To Fix It

You’ve listened to “Pinball Wizard” thousands of times. You practice hitting the flippers just at the right time, even going so far as to look up YouTube videos to try to see what you’re doing wrong. And yet, you can’t seem to get a game to happen for more than three minutes.

Why am I so bad at pinball? A lack of pinball skill often boils down to one of four main reasons. These reasons include:

  • No practice
  • Feeling nervous or distracted
  • Focusing on the wrong thing
  • Choosing a bad game

Most people who struggle with pinball can improve their game greatly by simply adjusting the way they look at the game, the attitude they play with, or even just practicing when they can. Our guide will give you quick fixes to help you improve your game as fast as possible. 

To see the most popular pinball games on the market just click here.

Why Am I So Bad At Pinball? 

Pinball is one of those few games that people either love or hate. It’s a game where people either take to it naturally or end up struggling with it for years. In most cases, the issues people have with pinball with pinball are mental. 

Though there is a lightly physical element to pinball, most of the game remains a mental struggle. If you’re like most people, learning to become great at pinball means that you’re going to have to learn the right mindset. 

The Role Of Practice In Pinball

Just like with any other arcade game, pinball takes a lot of practice to nail down. If you’re brand new to the game, you can’t expect to be an expert right off the bat. Take your time, spend a couple of months playing at an “open play arcade,” and you’ll likely see improvement. 

Pinball isn’t as common as it used to be. You actually have to go to specialty arcades to find a machine most of the time, and that means that getting practice isn’t as easy as it once was. This is the most common reason why people are bad at pinball: not actually having the opportunity to practice the game. 

Nervousness And Distraction In Pinball

Did you ever notice how hard it is to keep your hands steady when you see the ball drifting towards the bottom of the pinball machine? Did you ever notice how many bells and whistles pinball machines have? That’s by design; suspense and distraction make it hard to keep your eyes on the prize. 

Pinball machines are designed to play tricks with peoples’ minds. How successful they are in messing with a player’s mind make a huge difference in how long (or short) a game will be.

Why Being Nervous Psyches Out Pinball Players

Nervousness is something most pinball players struggle with, especially when they’re first giving the game a try. When you’re on edge and worried about losing the game, it’s easy to make these rookie mistakes:

  • Hitting flippers too early. You see the ball rolling towards the gutter; you want to save them, and OH! When you hit the flippers, it’s too early, knocking the ball into the gutter.
  • Hitting flippers too frequently. Believe it or not, hitting flippers to frequently can actually reduce your chances of keeping the ball up in the air.
  • Freezing up. It you’re too nervous, you might even shut down. Knowing what is the best move to take is vital to keeping the ball alive so if you freeze up, even for a second, you will lose your edge.

How Distraction Wrecks Your Game

While being nervous can cause a litany of bad moves, distraction’s dangers are fairly simple. When you’re too distracted from all the lights and noise, it’s normal to forget that you need to keep your eye on the ball. This, in turn, causes you to miss your shot.

It isn’t just the lights and sounds that distract you either. Normally when you play you will have friends or family nearby cheering (or jeering). That adds an extra layer of distraction that makes it even a little harder to play a good game.  

How To Fix Your Nerves While You’re Playing Pinball

If you’re feeling your nerves get the best of you, the easiest way to regain control is to simply take a deep breath and focus on the ball. If you’re really struggling, keep an eye on the gutter. There’s no need to panic here; it’s just a game. 

While playing, focus on hitting the flippers just as they get to the center of the flipper or close to the tip. This ensures that you get some distance with your shots and that your work isn’t all in vain. 

I always seem to get really nervous thinking that the ball is going to go down the middle so I will panic and start bumping the table or hitting the flippers frantically. This of course doesn’t help at all and will often make me miss the shot that I would have made if I didn’t panic. 

Not Focusing On The Right Thing

Pinball is a game of focus. As long as you keep your eyes on the ball and keep your hands ready to hit it upwards, you should be reasonably good at it. Unfortunately, we tend to forget that when there are people watching, when the lights go crazy, or when a trick shot seems tempting. 

This is all by design. Pinball game “extras” are made to encourage risky moves from players or to distract players from keeping the ball in play. Trick shots, light-up games, and other “strategy” tricks usually cause more harm than good. 

How to Focus on The Pinball Game Better

Learning what to focus on is just as important as learning how to practice your skill set. Your focus, if you want to become great, should first be on keeping the ball in action. Everything else should be secondary. 

If you’re having a hard time, follow these tips below:

  • Don’t look at your score until after your ball sinks. Scores can be very distracting and can encourage risky decisions.
  • Forget about trick shots. If you keep your ball in play long enough, you’ll eventually make the shots or light up all the targets. That’s just probability, and while it’s not glamorous, it works.
  • If you’re easily distracted, wear headphones. Headphones or earplugs can help remove the distraction of loud noises and bangs from the machine.
  • Focus on the bottom half of the game. You cannot control anything that happens in the top half of a pinball machine. It’s best to just follow the ball and then get into “game mode” when it gets close to a flipper or a gutter. This is probably the hardest advice to follow as we just naturally want to see what is happening but avoiding doing that can help take your skills to the next level.

The Pinball Wizard 

If you remember the lyrics to “Pinball Wizard,” the kid the band was talking about was “dumb, deaf, and blind.” The reason why he was so good was that he had limited distractions around him due to his disabilities. For that “wizard,” it was all about feeling the pinball and hitting it when he felt it coming close. 

That song has a lot of truth to the best strategies on pinball. It was never about trick shots; it was all about just focusing and learning how to time your hits. It’s food for thought, isn’t it? 

Are You Playing A Bad Pinball Game?

Though the silver ball is generally the same from machine to machine, not all pinball games are equal in terms of quality. Some are simply far more challenging than others. Others are even downright unfair when it comes to difficulty. 

Extremely old school pinball machines are notorious for being difficult or even rigged to cause a loss within minutes. If you’re playing on a machine-made prior to 1960, chances are very high that you really aren’t that bad at pinball. You might just be hitting a rigged game!

How To Tell if your Machine is Bad

If you are failing at pinball despite practice and focus, you might actually be playing a “bad game.” These signs below suggest that your machine is just there to eat up your coins:

  • The machine is very old. Machines made prior to the 1960s (and even during that decade) are known for being exceptionally difficult to play and are prone to rigging.
  • When you hit the flippers, they don’t always work. You are not going to win on a broken game!
  • There’s a LOT of space on the pinball board. A good rule of thumb is to judge a pinball game’s difficulty by the amount of space (or lack of widgets) you see on the board.
  • There’s a noticeable gap at the pinball gutter. An extremely wide gutter means that your ability to win a game won’t be due to skill, but rather, to luck.

When in doubt, just switch machines. You’d be surprised at what a difference it can make. 

Need Some Help?

Do you need some help taking your game to the next level? Check out this video below from Home Leisure that will help improve your game.


I hope these simple steps have helped you realize that upping your game is not only possible but it isn’t that far off. It doesn’t require you to be an athlete or to have pinpoint accuracy. It just requires you to eliminate distractions, focus on the ball, and practice practice practice! 

Matt Robbs

There is nothing quite so enjoyable as bringing back memories from your childhood. We used to spend hours playing pinball in my friends basement and that really got me involved in everything retro!

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